Rachel is Mum to Hannah Cockroft, a paralympian and one of Whizz-Kidz's patrons. Hannah received a sports wheelchair from Whizz-Kidz when she was a teenager and now is a world record-holding wheelchair racer.
'Hannah is classified as T34 ( T-for track athlete and 34 denotes athletes with damage to the brain causing various different areas of her body to be weak. In Hannah's case this is mainly from the hips down and in her hands).
'For a long time after her birth we didn't have a diagnosis for her. She got septicaemia from a womb infection that I contracted, in hindsight probably after my waters broke, which caused her heart to stop. Brilliant doctors and nurses resuscitated her and she was transferred from Halifax to Leeds where we were both dangerously ill, then she had a second heart attack a few days later. She shouldn't have lived but ever the fighter she did but with lots of problems. She was provisionally diagnosed with cerebral palsy. However a collapsed lung, epileptic fits and various other problems meant that we weren't concerned with diagnosis then.
Getting a diagnosis
'Five weeks later Hannah came home along with lots of medication and instructions. I used to be a nurse and Hannah became my full time job. The search for a diagnosis began when all the various forms that accompany a disabled child were thrust at us. We saw lots of different consultants over the next few years which at times was frustrating and upsetting. Despite lots of spinal and brain scans, x-rays and examinations, no one had come across a child like Hannah. Often we were told to do the best we could for her to give her a comfortable life.
'The lack of diagnosis also meant we had no way of knowing what the future held for her. Early life consisted of regular physio, medication, monitoring and frequent temper tantrums from Hannah as various equipment was tried to help her stand. The help from the physios was invaluable, they and the rest of the staff at the Child Development Unit became firm friends to our family, and often supported both Hannah and I when our frustrations came out in tears.
Hannah's first wheelchair
'The position Hannah has adopted to keep her upright is not a normal one and puts increasing pressure on her spine and discs. We were referred to wheelchair services to get her a chair when she was three or four. I thought it was a backward step. Of course everyone was just trying to be realistic and help her to be independent. I finally realised their good intentions and the sense in it, but Hannah had always mixed with non disabled people and hated to feel different.
'I have often had to fight Hannah’s corner to help her to integrate into the "normal" world. Often I was nearby to help when issues arose due to her limitations. I became a playgroup leader, joined PTAs and eventually became a support assistant myself to use the experiences I had faced to help others in similar positions.
Discovering wheelchair sports
'At secondary school, Hannah was introduced to disabled sports by a forward thinking sports teacher. She brought in a wheelchair basketball team for all the kids to try and Hannah loved it so much she joined. The trouble was wheelchair basketball chairs are expensive and I was only a part time support assistant and my husband a sheet metal worker. This was when we met the wonderful people at Whizz Kidz that bought her her chair. She still uses it when she has chance to play and it even had a makeover for her to use it when she did strictly come dancing for BBC sport relief!
'Looking back, life with a disabled child wasn't easy but there are so many people around willing and able to help us help her fulfil her dreams. The trick is to be realistic and aware of any limitations but not to let them deter you. Often someone can offer an alternative approach or provide help. It is up to us as parents to provide support and encouragement, but be warned it can take over your life!
- Hannah as a little girl - with the only wheelchair barbie in the world!
- Hannah won Strictly Come Dancing Sport Relief Special in her Whizz-Kidz chair
Rachel has shared her story as part of Whizz-Kidz's new Parents Network. Our online network is a place for parents of wheelchair users to get information and share advice and experiences. Sign up to our Parents Network.